Clusters of cyclones churn over Jupiter


Gravity measurements collected by Juno during its close flybys of the planet have now provided an answer.

A truly striking result released in the Nature papers is the lovely new imagery of Jupiter's poles captured by Juno's Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument. The computer-generated image (based on the infrared one) of the North Pole shows the presence of a central cyclone surrounded by eight circumpolar cyclones with diameters ranging from 4,000 to 4,600 km. These new discoveries relate to its gravitational field, its chaotic atmosphere, the composition of its interior and its polar cyclones, and allow scientists to form a more complete picture of the larger planet of our solar system.

Almost all the polar cyclones, at both the north and south pole of Jupiter, are so tightly packed that their spiral arms are in contact with the cyclone located just next to them. But, they remain distinct in spite of being so tightly spaced.

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"Since Jupiter is basically a giant ball of gas, the initial expectation was that there would be no asymmetries in the gravity field between the north and south", Kaspi said.

NASA's Juno Mission has revealed Jupiter's cyclone clusters mystery and showed that a certain amount of polygonally shaped cyclones that lye deep in 1,900 miles into the surface that are now visible thanks to NASA's efforts. By measuring this imbalance, which represents a change in the planet's gravity field, scientists have been able to establish that the winds reach a depth of around 3,000 kilometres; quite a bit more than previous estimates had calculated. "Juno is only about one third the way through its primary mission, and already we are seeing the beginnings of a new Jupiter". Jupiter's atmosphere takes up 1 per cent of its total mass - it might sound like a small proportion, but its huge compared to the Earth's atmosphere which is only a millionth of its total mass.

"The question is, why do they not merge?" said Adriani.

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To make features more visible in Jupiter's terminator - the region where day meets night - the Juno team adjusted JunoCam so that it would perform like a portrait photographer taking multiple photos at different exposures, hoping to capture one image with the intended light balance. The observation has led Adriani to believe that not all gaseous giant planets are created equal.

Tristan Guillot, a Juno co-investigator from the France University, said, "This is really an awesome result, and future measurements by Juno will help us understand how the transition works between the weather layer and the rigid body below". Until now, scientists have had scant information about what lies below Jupiter's thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops - as close as about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers). Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Using data gathered from Juno's sophisticated suite of instruments, researchers have found that Jupiter's storms aren't confined to the uppermost layers of the Jovian atmosphere.

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